The Oral Interview

The Oral Interview

Oral Interview Questions used for this Project

If you want to prepare an interview for Roots-Key on this special project, these are some of the themes we are focusing on. We are interested in where people came from before Los Angeles. And when they were in their original home countries, what  their occupations and interests were. That is, just what did they bring with them to L.A. Once here, how did they adjust. What was the first generation doing and what were their goals for themselves and their children.

As, we are trying to re-create a place, we are also interested in neighbors, neighborhoods, activities, affiliations and their extended families and support groups. What did they contribute to their neighbors and neighborhoods. We  also want to know where they went to school, played, married and were buried. All the details that make up a life shared by others.

So here are some questions. I’m sure you can think of others.

Your family:

When did your family first come to L.A.

Where did they live before that
What did they do there.

Your life:

Where were you born?
What do you remember most about your first  neighborhood?

Do you know the address?
Was that the only neighborhood you lived in?
What school did you go to?

What did your parents do?

What associations did they belong to?
Were they religious?

We are interested in Yiddishkeyt, Zionism, Associations and Clubs, Religious life. How Jewish consciousness might have differed before and after the war.
And anti-Semitism before and after the war.

If you went back to your old neighborhood what would you miss the most?

What did the teenagers do for fun?
What were the songs you associate with life back then?
What was different about growing up in L.A.

Well, as I am not from LA,  this is the best I can do. I am sure  you can write better questions. But I want to learn about growing up in LA (as opposed to my own experience of growing up in NY where we had subways and winters and Radio City Music Hall to listen to the Big Bands).

Good Luck and looking forward to your contributions.

Write your interview up in Questions and Answers. So that the reader can see the interview as a chat conversation.

Nancy Holden

Editor Roots-Key

Collecting Evidence for a Genealogical History of Family Through Interviews

by Elizabeth Ginsburg

Protection: In some cases, you might want to prepare a statement which the subject will sign allowing you to use the interview with impunity for whatever purposes.

Equipment needed:

A small cassette sound recorder of good quality is better than a video as transcribing will be much easier when you seek to print the interview. The recorder should accommodate a jack and extension cord so that you can use an electrical outlet and not be dependent on a battery. The recorder should be of good quality and should be clearly heard when the tape runs out and needs to be turned over or replaced. Tapes should be of good quality and record for an hour on each side. Take extra tapes and test the recorder and the tape before starting the interview

A pad to make notes.

Time and Place

Allow for at least 1½ to 2 hours at time for the interview. Choose a quiet, comfortable place without outside noise interference and make the interviewee feel at ease. Position the interviewee at right angles to the interviewer with the recorder facing the interviewee preferably on a low table such as a coffee table. If necessary, raise the recorder to the level of the interviewee.

Setting the tone of the interview

Devote adequate time and use open-ended questions. Allow about twenty minutes during the initial questioning period for the interviewee to expand on answers during the early interview and to overcome any resistance. Keep a record on your note pad to follow up on particulars. For example, if the interviewee reports a birth in a small town, follow up later for the exact name and location. Save sensitive questions for the end of the interview.


If possible, have interviewee fill out a simple questionnaire before or after the interview which will include the following:
Date of interview
Subject’s name, address, phone
Mother’s name, place of birth
Father’s name, place of birth
Sibling’s names (in birth order), phone numbers
Synagogue or Jewish organization family was affiliated with
Schools subject attended
Year graduated
Work history

Sample questions (they should be open-ended)

Early years:

What do you remember about your grandparents?
What do you remember about your parents?
What do you remember about your brothers, sisters?
What hereditary traits are there in your family?
What were your family’s religious practices?
What were your family’s circumstances when you were born?
Where did your family live and why did they move?
What are your pre-school memories?

Formal education: grade school conditions, teachers, friends; high school activities, achievement, special friends. What advanced education did you have?

Community: Characteristics of your community – size, economic activities

Historic events during your lifetime – major epidemics, catastrophes, family events.

Humorous experiences.

Social life – youth groups, etc.

Religious activities – attendance at synagogue, religious school.

Military service – why did you enter the military? What branch? Basic or specialized
training? Combat duty? Feelings about this experience, conflicts with standards?
Marriage and family – your child rearing philosophy, rules, roles of mother and father?

Family traditions? (folklore, superstitions, legends, traditions)

Elizabeth Ginsburg, born in Nashville, Tenn., raised in Boyle Heights, East L.A., graduate, U.C. Berkeley ( BA English-Journalism major), Columbia U. (M.A. History and Teaching of Social Science).  Work Experience:  Publishing, Teaching, Los Angeles School District; Supervisor Student Teachers,  Cal State Northridge.

Oral Interviewing

From the New York JGS – By Lori Wenig

Interviewing relatives can provide a wealth of information to assist you in your genealogical pursuits. The following questions are suggested as a guide. Feel free to add your own questions.

  • What is your Hebrew/Yiddish name? Who were you named after and what was their relationship to you?
  • What towns did the family come from and where were they located?
  • What are some of your earliest memories, favorite memories?
  • Did you have a pet as a child?
  • How did you meet your spouse; how did your parents meet?
  • What were your father’s, mother’s, grandparents’ positive qualities?
  • What kind of work did your father/grandfather or mother/grandmother do?
  • What is your fondest memory of your father/grandfather, mother/grandmother?
  • What do you think your father/grandfather, mother/grandmother would like to be remembered for?
  • What is your favorite story about your father/grandfather, mother/grandmother?
  • How did you celebrate the holidays as a child?
  • Who was your favorite relative as a child?
  • Can you recall any relatives your parents talked about?
  • Do you have any pictures or albums of the family?
  • Ask these questions about siblings as well. If the person doesn’t remember, try to rephrase the questions or come back to the question later. Remember that some relatives may tire easily, so try to conduct the interview over several days.
  • After you have been researching, share the information with the people you interviewed; they might recall more information.